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Robots and Jobs: Evidence from US Labor Markets

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  • Daron Acemoglu
  • Pascual Restrepo

Abstract

As robots and other computer-assisted technologies take over tasks previously performed by labor, there is increasing concern about the future of jobs and wages. We analyze the effect of the increase in industrial robot usage between 1990 and 2007 on US local labor markets. Using a model in which robots compete against human labor in the production of different tasks, we show that robots may reduce employment and wages, and that the local labor market effects of robots can be estimated by regressing the change in employment and wages on the exposure to robots in each local labor market—defined from the national penetration of robots into each industry and the local distribution of employment across industries. Using this approach, we estimate large and robust negative effects of robots on employment and wages across commuting zones. We bolster this evidence by showing that the commuting zones most exposed to robots in the post-1990 era do not exhibit any differential trends before 1990. The impact of robots is distinct from the impact of imports from China and Mexico, the decline of routine jobs, offshoring, other types of IT capital, and the total capital stock (in fact, exposure to robots is only weakly correlated with these other variables). According to our estimates, one more robot per thousand workers reduces the employment to population ratio by about 0.18-0.34 percentage points and wages by 0.25-0.5 percent.

Suggested Citation

  • Daron Acemoglu & Pascual Restrepo, 2017. "Robots and Jobs: Evidence from US Labor Markets," NBER Working Papers 23285, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23285
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Melanie Arntz & Terry Gregory & Ulrich Zierahn, 2016. "The Risk of Automation for Jobs in OECD Countries: A Comparative Analysis," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 189, OECD Publishing.
    2. Graetz, Georg & Michaels, Guy, 2015. "Robots at Work," CEPR Discussion Papers 10477, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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    4. Paul Beaudry & Mark Doms & Ethan Lewis, 2006. "Endogenous Skill Bias in Technology Adoption: City-Level Evidence from the IT Revolution," NBER Working Papers 12521, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Eve Caroli & John Van Reenen, 2001. "Skill-Biased Organizational Change? Evidence from A Panel of British and French Establishments," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1449-1492.
    6. Guy Michaels & Ashwini Natraj & John Van Reenen, 2014. "Has ICT Polarized Skill Demand? Evidence from Eleven Countries over Twenty-Five Years," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 96(1), pages 60-77, March.
    7. Anderson, James E, 1979. "A Theoretical Foundation for the Gravity Equation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(1), pages 106-116, March.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J23 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Demand
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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